The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

By George & Josh Bate

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review
Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

When one thinks of successful movie franchises, Marvel and Star Wars come to mind as franchises with immense critical and financial success. But, even amidst this great success has come variability. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for instance, has had Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home, but they’ve also had The Marvels and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Star Wars, meanwhile, have had The Force Awakens and Revenge of the Sith on one end of the spectrum with Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Rise of Skywalker at the other end. Beyond Marvel and Star Wars though, quietly going about its business for 13 years as arguably the most consistently excellent film franchise is the Planet of the Apes reboot.

In 2014, director Matt Reeves came on board the Planet of the Apes franchise to helm the sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves began with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a film that continued the journey of heroic ape Caesar and pitted him against an unruly group of human survivors. Dawn exceeded all critical and financial expectations, earning over $700 million at the box office and impressing with a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Three years later, Reeves concluded the trilogy of prequel Apes movies with War for the Planet of the Apes, which, while making less of a financial impact, affirmed that the franchise is one of the strongest and most consistent movie series out there.

The three prequel films – Rise, Dawn, and War – brilliantly exist in two worlds: an auteur, person (or ape) focused story, and a big summer blockbuster blast. To find a film, let alone a franchise, that can hit both is incredibly rare, and the Planet of the Apes reboot deserves great credit for its longevity and ever-consistent quality on display.  

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review
(L-R): Soona (played by Lydia Peckham) and Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

After such financial and critical success, the expectations are high coming into Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Directed by Wes Ball, who previously helmed The Maze Runner films, Kingdom follows a young ape named Noa (played by Owen Teague) who undertakes a great journey to rescue his clan and avenge those that he lost following a surprise enemy invasion from a group of villainous apes. On this journey, Noa encounters a mysterious human named Nova (played by Freya Allan) and a wholesome orangutan by the name of Roka (played by Peter Macon). Together, the trio make their way to Proximus Caesar (played by Kevin Durand), a vicious dictator who has distorted the legacy of Caesar to fulfill his own goals. 

With such high standards to hit given the success of its predecessor, it is both a delight and relief to state that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is handled with care, love, and artistic craft. While not everything about the movie lands, Ball’s film is the culmination of poignant storytelling, strong characters, and stunning visual effects. Kingdom was shot entirely on location, and the effort it took translates well onto screen; the movie simply feels more real and personal than most big franchise summer movies and continues the strong streak of the Planet of the Apes reboot series.

Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

That the film is so personal is interestingly, in part, attributable to the innovative visual effects from VFX supervisor Erik Winquist and the team at Wētā FX. While there are a few shots in War for the Planet of the Apes that exceed any of the visual effects spectacles in Kingdom, this new film generally represents another gargantuan leap forward in regards to achievements with visual effects. These effects are so immersive and visceral that they make the characters (the vast majority of whom are talking apes) feel incredibly authentic. Without such impressive effects, Kingdom simply doesn’t hold up as a movie. What could easily devolve into unintentionally comedic territory is instead a deeply emotional film, one that, despite an admittedly heightened premise, manages to feature poignant and relatable characters actualized through cutting-edge filmmaking technology.

Similarly poignant in Kingdom are the themes it tackles, such as the enduring role of Caesar hundreds of years after his death. In many ways, the way in which ape society has taken in Caesar’s teachings is akin to religion in our own, real life history; some, such as orangutan Roka, are devout followers who view Caesar as a Christ-like figure. Others, like Proximus Caesar, distort Caesar’s name and teachings for their own quest for power. The legacy of Caesar plays a key role throughout Kingdom, starting with an excellent prologue that kicks the film off on such strong footing. The religious parallels and legacy of Caesar lay the foundation for substantive and thematic storytelling that never quite takes off, however. Inevitable sequels to Kingdom will likely explore these themes more strongly, but, judging Kingdom on its own, these themes never fully develop.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review
Noa (played by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The themes related to Caesar are built upon even further with the inclusion of Freya Allan’s Nova character. The human characters have always been the least interesting element of these Apes reboot films, and that trend continues here. Nova is not always as she seems, and can be surprisingly dishonest about her ultimate goals and broader mission at hand. Unfortunately, the role of Nova and the humans never quite work in the story. Reveals about Nova do not come as a surprise, but are simultaneously delivered in a convoluted and also impersonal manner. Aspects of the character’s role in the film, while aligning with plot threads from 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, disappointingly seem to undermine what Reeves achieved with War for the Planet of the Apes as well, but to discuss more fully would be to delve into spoiler territory.

What can be said without divulging spoilers is that Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is a film of two halves. The first half adopts the structure of a journey film as our lead character makes his way from one point to another. Noa is introduced as a compelling protagonist in a slower paced first half that takes time to develop its characters and let the movie breathe. It’s also in this first half that the film mirrors the narrative simplicity of Reeves’ Apes movies. At its barebones, War for the Planet of the Apes was a revenge movie, following Caesar on a crusade against the colonel who killed his wife and son. The first half of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes possesses similar narrative simplicity with profound emotional complexity. The characters’ interactions are captivating and the aforementioned idea of Caesar’s legacy is effectively introduced.

Where the film goes awry is in its second half, which aligns with the introduction of Proximus Caesar. Kevin Durand and intricate visual effects bring this villain character to life with a magnetism and fascination. However, the film’s story takes a sharp turn upon the introduction of Proximus Caesar, one that takes the film down a far messier road. 

(L-R): Raka (played by Peter Macon), Noa (played by Owen Teague) , and Freya Allan as Nova in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

With so many intriguing ideas at its disposal, Kingdom errs in its execution, rather than its conception. That is to say, all the pieces are here for a great Apes movie, but poor storytelling in the film’s second half hinders upon its ultimate effectiveness. Characters’ motivations become murky and the swelling emotion that consumes the film’s first half deflates almost entirely in the second half. Ultimately, everything makes sense, although messy storytelling detracts from the viewing experience by the end of the film’s 145 minute runtime. Importantly, however, Kingdom never fails to entertain. Despite losing its way in the second half, the film still manages to honor the series’ three previous films and tantalizingly leaves the story on a promising note for future installments.

On a final note, a particular nitpick must be raised in regards to the species of Proximus Caesar, who is labeled as a bonobo. In real life, bonobos are largely considered to be the most peaceful of the great apes (far more so than chimpanzees), and even gorillas appear to be misrepresented in this movie. These Africa-dwelling apes are known as the peaceful giants who hold immense power but are often relatively calm and docile unless tested or scared. It’s far from Mark Wahlberg calling a chimp a “monkey” in the 2001 Tim Burton remake, and this is admittedly a criticism launched at a film that takes all sorts of leaps in regards to what’s possible. Nonetheless, as admirers of the love and positivity bonobos in real life embody, some inaccuracies in ape representation are worth noting.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes review
Raka (played by Peter Macon) in 20th Century Studios’ KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

VERDICT: 7.5/10

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes continues to demonstrate how the Planet of the Apes reboot franchise is one of the most quietly successful and emotionally effective film series. Stunning visual effects breathe life into excellent new ape characters, with Owen Teague’s Noa taking the lead. The film’s first half explores the evolved ape culture and taps into touching emotionality in a manner similar to Rise, Dawn, and War. While the film introduces plenty of interesting ideas, including the legacy of Caesar and distortion that can come with using religion for personal gain, these ideas never fully develop into something substantive. The role of the human characters, in particular Nova, contributes to messy storytelling in a second half that stumbles with its narrative. Despite these issues, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes concludes on a tantalizing note that excitingly sets the stage for future installments. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes stumbles with its storytelling at times and yet ultimately excels as the rare film that strikes a balance between big-budget spectacle and more intimate themes and characters. Apes together strong once again for one of the industry’s most consistent and underappreciated franchises.

The HoloFiles

The HoloFiles is a website and series of social media accounts, including Star Wars Holocron, Marvel Tesseract, DC Motherbox, Film Codex, and Horror Necronomicon. We love cinema and television, and aim to spread positivity across different fandoms. Come to us for news, reviews, interviews, trivia facts, quotes, behind the scenes photos, analytic features, and more!